OFPP's Frontline Forum is back

Blogger Steve Kelman is pleased to see that OFPP's Dan Gordon has revived the practice of meeting with contracting professionals from across the government.

Seems like a great start for an oldie-but-goodie. If the procurement system is to be improved, the engagement of the people who actually are doing the work is absolutely crucial. If any Frontline Forum members by any chance are readers of this blog, I would love to hear comments.

One of the things I was most proud of having done as administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) in the 1990s was to establish the "Frontline Forum"—a group of agency-nominated non-supervisory contracting professionals who met in the White House complex about once a quarter to share ideas and give reactions to procurement initiatives we were planning. The idea was to engage our career workforce in the process of improving the procurement system—both to present ideas and experiences and to give feedback on some of the administration's ideas. A number of members of the forum have since become senior procurement managers, and, so many years later, I still get emails from forum members with updates or questions.

Dan Gordon, the current OFPP administrator, has brought the forum back, and it held its first meeting recently in the White House complex (though the Indian Treaty Room, where we used to meet, is for now closed for renovation).

Dan had about 35 contracting professionals at his first meeting, with two from each agency and a mix of folks from the front lines and some more senior people. The introductory gathering lasted five hours, with Dan mostly listening and taking extensive notes. He asked each member to discuss the contracting experience of which they were most proud, and also solicited information about recent agency initiatives aimed at saving money in procurement and/or reducing contracting risks. People spoke about converting time and materials contracts (for mail services and warehousing seized property, for example) to fixed-price, performance based contracts. Others spoke about both positive experiences and challenges in using reverse auctions.

There was a lot of discussion about the acquisition workforce and particularly the new generation of contracting professionals coming into agencies. Some of the same worries that I have expressed in this blog came out in people's observations—fear that new hires will not be given interesting assignments and will quickly leave the government, and dissatisfaction with many of the training programs for the new hires. Most believed that their offices were too reliant on contractor support for doing contracting -- and that there were many situations where contractors were in reality making procurement decisions, even if a government official gave the formal signoff. But many also believed that it would be difficult to reduce the reliance on contractor support because of a mixture of (real or perceived) FTE limitations, clunky hiring procedures and poor management of new employees.

There was a lot of dissatisfaction expressed about excessive reporting requirements—an old standby of complaints, which clearly has again gotten worse in the wake of the fear industry efforts of recent years—and Dan promised that a July meeting of the forum would be specifically devoted to this topic.